From the Director

by Rex Parker, PhD, Director





Your Attendance Essential at May 12 Meeting. (Bowen Hall, Princeton campus) May is the Annual Meeting for election of officers for the coming year. A membership quorum is needed to accomplish this, so please do your part and participate in the vote. The candidate slate is reviewed elsewhere in this issue (Elections 2015-2016). In addition, an important expenditure proposal for observatory instrument upgrades will be discussed and voted upon at the meeting. Details are described below.

For the main presentation, Dr. Timothy Morton of the Dept. of Astrophysics, Princeton University, will speak about his research in extra-solar planetary astronomy:  “The Astonishing Diversity of Planetary Systems”.  Dr Morton uses cutting edge technology and instrumentation to identify and evaluate planets around other stars, studies we could only imagine a decade ago.  In addition Dr Morton is adept with instruments of the musical variety, from flute, piano, and guitar to voice and choral.  For more on Dr. Morton’s AAAP talk on May 12, see elsewhere in this issue (May 12 talk).

Join Us for These AAAP Events.  Keeping the emphasis on high-tech we are rolling out a few projects and events that we hope will entice you to get involved:

  • May 16: Members-only special night at Washington Crossing Observatory. Unveiling the Mallincam astro-video, a new Paramount for the Hastings refractor, and two new telescopes. Please join us at the Observatory beginning at sunset to see what the excitement is all about.
  • June 19-20: Observing weekend at Cherry Springs State Park in northern PA, a remarkable dark sky site (minimal accommodations). Arrive Friday before sunset and return home Sunday.
  • Dates pending: Field trips to the US Naval Observatory in D.C., and to the famed Bell Labs Horn Antenna, Holmdel NJ (site of first discovery of the cosmic microwave background).
  • Sept 11-13: AAAP hosts Jersey Starquest, an observing weekend at a dark sky site with accommodations at Camp Hope in north Jersey near Jenny Jump State Forest.

AAAP Washington Crossing Observatory to Reopen May 8. The equipment and computer upgrades at Washington Crossing Observatory are nearing completion, and we we will re-open for member and public events beginning May 8.  Special thanks to Dave Skitt, Gene Ramsey, and John Church for installing the new Paramount-ME  and mounting the historic Hastings refractor. Also thanks to Brian Van Liew, Michael Mitrano, Larry Kane, and Jim Poinsett for helping with the video/telescope project. If you have further questions about observing or to begin training to become an Observatory Keyholder, please contact co-chairs Dave or Gene

Expenditure Proposal for Members Vote on May 12. As discussed at the April meeting, several additional components need to be purchased to complete the hardware and software upgrade project at WC Observatory. The total upper limit for the proposal to complete this project is $5000. This is well within our budget and treasury balance. Completing the upgrade project is critical to the AAAP’s mission of bringing observational astronomy to members and to the public. Detailed items and costs are listed below (thanks to Dave Skitt for providing the estimates). Depending on the options implemented, it is possible that less will be spent.  The Observatory Committee and the Officers recommend approval.

SkyX software and Paramount controller upgrades.

For the original AAAP Paramount ME.

  1. SkyX Professional software upgrade only: $245. Disks and download for 2 Windows computers. Any Add-ons would be extra (below)
  2. TPoint Add-on for SkyX above: $149. Camera Add-on: $199

— or–

  1. Universal Subscription for the whole SkyX suite (all Add-ons included): $700. This is discounted price (outright purchase would be $1200). Download for up to six Windows or Mac computers.

For the donated Paramount ME.

  1. “Transfer” License for the whole SkyX suite (all Add-ons included): $300. Download (likely) for up to six Windows or Mac computers. Software Bisque to confirm status of license and appropriateness of “Transfer” License price.
  2. MKS5000 electronic board upgrade for donated Paramount ME: $1700. Cost is such due to age of mount; upgrade requires more hardware along with the board.

Computer Upgrades.

  1. Desktop with solid state drive, keyboard, and monitor for AAAP Paramount ME: $950.
  2. Laptop with solid state drive for donated Paramount ME: $950.
  3. Miscellaneous cables/computer accessories: $200.
  4. Software upgrades for both mounts could be as low as $545 or as high as $1000. The electronics upgrade is fixed at $1700. The limit for two computers is estimated at $950 each, and $200 is added for miscellaneous unknowns.

Total proposed – $5000.

Depending on options it is possible that less will be spent. We are requesting authorization to spend up to $5000 to complete the current project.

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The Astonishing Diversity of Planetary Systems

by Ira Polans, Acting Program Chair

The next AAAP meeting will be on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in Bowen Hall (see Princeton campus maps for building and parking locations). Our guest speaker Tim Morton is an Associate Research Scholar in the Astrophysics Department at Princeton University studying the diversity of exoplanetary systems. He will talk to the club about “The Astonishing Diversity of Planetary Systems”. A meet-the-speaker dinner for AAAP members will begin at Winberries on Palmer Square at 6:00 pm. Please RSVP to S. Prasad Ganti if you will attend the dinner.

Tim Morton

Tim Morton

From the very first detections of planets around other stars (now known as exoplanets) 20 years ago, our solar-centric understanding of planets and planetary systems—stable for hundreds of years of scientific inquiry—has been up-ended. Tim will review the history of what we have learned through the study of exoplanets, focusing especially on some surprising discoveries about the typical nature of planetary systems enabled by NASA’s Kepler mission in just the past few years. Tim will conclude with a look forward to what the future of exoplanet science may hold in the coming decade.

The final meeting of the season is in June and will be held at the NJ State Planetarium in Trenton, NJ. If you have suggestions for speakers for the 2015-2016 season, please contact the program committee: Ira Polans, S. Prasad Ganti and John Miller. You may also email suggestions to

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From the Assistant Director

by Larry Kane, Assistant Director

On Sunday, April 26, the AAAP was very well received by the public attending the 45th annual Princeton Communiversity Day. Representing our group of astronomers were Gene Ramsey, John Church, Jim Poinsett, Wasi Rahman, my wife Marlene and myself. Though the clouds were less than accommodating for our intended solar observing, we were able to talk to many of the public and gave away 65 AAAP brochures, lots of freebies donated by Astronomy Magazine, about forty of my old astronomy magazines and several AAAP membership applications. Those of us who were able to take part in this event concurred that our presence had a positive impact on those with whom we interacted. If they were not aware of the AAAP before Communiversity Day, they are now.

May is going to bring an important event to the Washington Crossing Park . On Sunday, May 17, 2015, the Washington Crossing Park Association (WCPA) will be hosting a “Walk in the Park with George.” The event is being facilitated by the WCPA as a fundraising event. If you would like to walk with the General and his many admirers; expect to see balloons, commemorative T-shirts, bottles of water and lots of happy smiles. Beginning at the Park Visitor Center, the General will lead the walk to the Johnson Ferry House and back, about one mile. Longer paths are available for those needing more fresh air. The WCPA has offered the AAAP a table at the event. I plan to staff the table to hand out AAAP brochures, freebies from Astronomy magazine and lots of verbiage about astronomy to the interested public. If you would like to spend some time at our table, please let me know.

This is an event to raise funds for the maintenance of the Johnson Ferry House in the park. All registrants that sign up before May 7 will receive a T-shirt. After that date, shirts will be provided based upon availability. On the day of the event, registrations starts at 8:30 a.m and the walk begins at 9:00 a.m. Prior to the day of the event, registration is $20 for and adult and $10 for a child 8-17 years of age. On the day of the event, registration will be $30 for adults and $20 for children. Children under the age of 8 are free.

If you would like to spend some pleasant hours to support the park in which our observatory is sited, then please consider signing up for this walk. Feel free to contact me for more information.

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Election of 2015-16 Board

By Michael Wright, Nominating Committee

At the May 12, 2015 meeting, AAAP will hold the annual election of Board Members for the upcoming season.  The candidates for 2015-16 are:

  • Director: Rex Parker
  • Assistant Director: Larry Kane
  • Secretary: Jim Poinsett
  • Tresurer: Michael Mitrano
  • Program Chair: Ira Polans

As required by the AAAP Constitution and By-Laws, election is by a simple majority vote provided that a quorum of 15% of the membership is present. All members are encouraged to attend and cast their vote.

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Minutes of the April 2015 Meeting of the AAAP

by Jim Poinsett, Secretary

  • Rex called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m. and made a few announcements before the lecture:
    • Saturday May 16th will be a members only night at the observatory.
    • There will be a club trip to Cherry Valley State Park in Pennsylvania the weekend of June 19th and 20th.
    • Communiversity is April 26th from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm
  • Ira introduced the speaker for the evening, Luke Hovey and his talk on Supernova Remnants.
  • The nominating committee announced the slate of nominees for office for next year:
    • Director – Rex Parker
    • Assistant Director – Larry Kane
    • Treasurer – Michael Mitrano
    • Secretary – Jim Poinsett
    • Program Chair – Ira Polans
  • The club expressed it’s thanks to Ira Polans, Prasad Ganti and John Miller for filling in as the program committee since Kate Otto unexpectedly had to leave.
  • The observatory committee has mounted the HB refractor using the donated Paramount on the existing pier using the mounting plate obtained by David Skitt. It is working well using a donated laptop and Sky 6.
  • Bill Murray will advertise the pier from the Vermont donation to get it out of the club’s possession.
  • There was discussion on a computer needed to operate the refractor.  The main discussion was between a laptop to be kept out near the refractor or a small form factor desktop that would be kept in the computer room. The possibility of theft or damage from visitors was part of the discussion. A proposal to purchase two laptops and Sky10 software will be presented to the membership for voting at the May meeting.
  • The observatory staff will order stone for the observatory driveway and have it delivered. A work party will be needed to help spread it around.
  • The Ioptron mount from the Dixey donation was sent out for an estimate on parts and service. The estimate came in around $450. The board approved $499 to pay for what was needed.
  • The board also approved money for Bill Murray to buy a new 55mm Plossl eyepiece at NEAF if it is less that $250.
  • Library books are to be listed in Sidereal Times and be given away.
  • Super Science Saturday is May 9th. Volunteers are needed to work the AAAP table.
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Observatory Update

by David Skitt, Observatory Co-Chair

The pulley system for opening the flap has been replaced and improved which significantly reduces the effort required to open the flap to the highest position needed to clear the telescopes. And, thanks to Gene Ramsey and his trusty belt sander, we’ve managed to increase the distance between the flap and the scopes by another one quarter to one half inch!

The new setup does not change the rope-pull/opening sequence, so no additional training is needed in that department. However, even with the improvements, please continue to watch as the roof opens to be sure that it clears the telescopes and their accessories.

Thanks to Jim Poinsett, we’ve put together a laptop to use with the refractor and Paramount. It has The Sky6 running on WinXP. It was destined for the recycle bin, but after some TLC, it seems to be running fine. With some added RAM, it would likely run The SkyX if we move in that direction before upgrading the computers. It has been set up similar the current desktop, with a Keyholder account and an Admin account. It will be on the desk between the two mounts for now and connected to the mount via a USB to serial port adapter.

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Testing the Hastings-Byrne Refractor

by John Church

Since some members had reported seeing a decline in the optical performance of the 6-1/4 inch Hastings-Byrne refractor, I conducted a thorough test of it on the night of April 18. Dave and Jen Skitt and Gene Ramsey were also present. Although the night was slightly hazy, the seeing became very good later on.

Earlier, I had removed the objective and cell and brought it home for a thorough inspection to see if there had been any physical deterioration in the glass elements. I could find none. The two elements had retained the transparency that I had seen when I first examined them in detail in the early 1970’s after I had cleaned them. Here are current photos of the front and rear surfaces:

The best way to test the optical performance of any objective is to carefully examine the image of a moderately bright star at medium magnification and then run it in and out of focus to check the roundness of the diffraction images. I did this with the 13-mm Ethos eyepiece, which is one of the best eyepieces we have. It gives a magnifying power of 178 with the 2313 mm focal length of the Hastings lens. The star exhibited a perfectly round image in-focus, with the usual faint circular diffraction rings around it.

Going in and out of focus made the rings expand and contract in a circular pattern. This shows that the objective had remained squared-on during the years since I had last adjusted it at the telescope and has suffered no change in its performance on stars. No further adjustments should be required.

This test also confirmed that the tailpiece and focusing tube were squared-on themselves, as any looseness or maladjustment would have affected the diffraction patterns. Dave had previously noticed some looseness in the screws that attach the tailpiece onto the tube and had already tightened these.

As a confirming test, I put the scope on Jupiter with the aid of my laptop and Sky 6 working the newly-installed Paramount ME. The image was really nice and had no noticeable false color. The belts were very distinct and many small details were seen. The C14 was put on it also, and we all watched Io slowly approach the disc, becoming tangent to it at the predicted time, and then gradually entering the disc. Using both scopes, we could all see the satellite as a well-defined circular white dot against the duller surface of Jupiter, well after it had fully entered the disc. If anything, I thought the Hastings did somewhat better on this than the C14.

We also looked at several close double stars, including Castor and Gamma Leonis. Again, the Hastings lens performed up to its previous high standard.

Here is one possible reason why observers could have noticed a dropoff in the apparent performance of the lens. This might have been due to using the large and very heavy Meade “hand-grenade” 40-mm eyepiece. The heavy weight could deflect the focuser, especially before their attachment screws had been tightened. For a low-power eyepiece, it would be far better to use the replacement 55-mm Plossl recently bought by Bill Murray at NEAF. This much lighter eyepiece gives essentially the same true field of view as the 40-mm Meade. The older 55-mm Plossl may have been dropped at some time, causing an obvious color ring between the interior elements, and so it should not be trusted any longer. Using this eyepiece might also have caused some problems.

Separately, Sky 6 and the Paramount ME are working very well with the refractor. Objects in far different parts of the sky are always found within the field of a low-power eyepiece. Just center them with the joystick and they will remain centered for a long time as the mount tracks. You can switch eyepieces at will and objects will remain centered.

The refractor has now been elevated a full nine inches by changing to the Paramount. This is making the observation of objects high in the sky much more convenient than it used to be. Gene Ramsey has recently donated a step stool with a custom hand-made adjustable seat finished in polished Luan plywood (thank you, Gene!). High objects can now be very comfortably viewed with the aid of this handy accessory.

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UACNJ Astronomy Day – May 9, 2015

Astronomy Day 2015 – Saturday May 9th

Free Astronomy Presentations and Solar Observing*

North East Branch of Warren County Library
40 US Highway 46 West, Hackettstown, NJ

1 PM – General Astronomy, Matt Heiss, NWJAA
2 PM – Meteorites, Walter Rothaug, RAC
3 PM – Northern Lights, Gregg Waldron, NWJAA

Free Evening Presentation and Star Party*
UACNJ Observatory
Jenny Jump State Forest, Hope, NJ
7 PM – Solar Eclipse and Northern Lights, Tony Hoffman, AAA
8 PM – Astronomy for Beginners, Ken Taylor, NWJAA

*solar observing and Star party if weather permits, presentations take place rain or shine.

Our free Saturday evening programs begin at 8:00 PM. Following a lecture on an astronomy-related topic, the public is invited to view the night sky through our telescopes until 10:30 PM.

Programs and speakers for the month of May:

5/2/2015 What’s up in the May Sky? Lonny Buinis, RVCC
5/9/2015 Astronomy for Beginners Ken Taylor, NWJAA
5/16/2015 The Northern Lights Gregg Waldron, NWJAA
5/23/2015 Beginning Astronomy Matt Heiss, NWJAA
5/30/2015 Dawn at Ceres Kris Kootale, MMAS

Please visit for a list of other topics and speakers.


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Come, Let Us Observe the Sky as Day Wanes

A Sonnet by David Kaplan

Come, let us observe the sky as day wanes,
As clouds flee and the sun vows its return,
Whilst darkness gives light to the stars and brains—
Fear not the demanding quest to discern.
You stand here a part of stars, not apart
From them, which swirl above as live embers
Birthed from primal flames at cosmos’s start.
Begin your journey and this remember—
A wild ride it is, spinning as we go,
Tilted, yearly looping that lustrous orb.
Celestial movement may appear as slow
As the mind probing to know—to absorb.
A few deep thinkers claim to understand,
But they only know that which is at hand.

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by S. Prasad Ganti

April’s guest lecture was about supernovae and their remnants. It reminded me of something special about them. Although they seem to be esoteric objects in the Universe, far, far away from the earth, and far away from our solar system, they are responsible for two of the major scientific understandings mankind accomplished in the twentieth century.

First, stars are being born all the time in different galaxies in different parts of the Universe. And stars die too. After exhausting their fuel, which is mainly hydrogen, stars die different kinds of death, mainly depending on their mass. Stars having a mass above 1.4 times the mass of our Sun end up as a supernova leading to either a neutron star or a black hole. The limit of 1.4 times the mass of our Sun is called Chandrasekhar limit, named for an astrophysicist Subramanian Chandrasekhar. The X-ray space telescope Chandra is named for him also. Our own Sun will end up as a white dwarf, taking a different path than its heavier cousins.

In the supernova phase, the explosion of the star is very violent, outshining everything else in the galaxy for a brief while. The first understanding that we obtained during the mid twentieth century was that heavier elements are cooked in these stellar explosions. In a process known as nucleosynthesis, elements heavier than hydrogen are made. In a star, hydrogen is compacted by the action of gravity to raise its temperature enough to create a nuclear fusion. The hydrogen atoms fuse to create helium and liberate vast amount of energy. The resulting helium is lighter than the input hydrogen atoms. The difference in mass is the creation of energy we see in form of light and other radiation from the Sun as per Einstein’s famous equation e=mc2.

Similarly, helium burns to produce higher elements like lithium, carbon, etc. Elements all the way up to iron are produced in the stars. The conditions in the stars, although extreme, are not enough to form elements heavier than iron. Something more violent is required for heavier elements like gold, uranium, etc. Supernovae are those extremely violent phenomena producing the heavier elements. That is why it is said that our wedding rings got cooked in a supernova! The nuclear fusion in the stars and the supernovae explain all the chemical elements we see around us.

The second understanding we obtained was the size of our Universe and the existence of other distant galaxies. Based on the observed spectra, the supernovae can be classified into different types. Type 1 contains hydrogen and type 2 does not. The presence of hydrogen shows up as a line at certain wavelength in the spectra. Type 1 is further classified into 1a, 1b and 1c. Type 1a are of interest to us. They show the presence of an ionized silicon in the spectra.

All the type 1a supernovae produce the same amount of brightness so they can be used as standard candles, which means that by measuring the brightness as perceived on earth, we can estimate the distance of such supernovae from us. Each galaxy has a supernova about once in hundred years. Observation of type 1a supernovae helped us understand the different galaxies and galaxy clusters in our Universe, even the remote ones. Eventually, this partly led to determining the size of our Universe.

Earlier, Edwin Hubble used a different kind of standard candle called Cepheid variables to determine that Andromeda was a different galaxy. At large distances, individual stars are no longer distinctly visible. Hence Cepheid variables from distant galaxies cannot be viewed or measured. The supernovae could be used as distant standard candles in such cases.

Supernovae are not abstract concepts. They really enhanced our understanding of our Universe.

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Contributed by David Kaplan

Our esteemed member, Freeman Dyson, has a new book, “Dreams of Earth and Sky“. The physicist, mathematician and author says the best books he knows about mathematics and physics are nearly a hundred years old.

The Large Hadron Collider restarts after a two-year rebuild, with scientists hoping it will give answers to fundamental questions about the universe. BBC

NASA names an asteroid after schoolgirl campaigner Malala Yousafzai. BBC

A huge effort to make a map of dark matter, the invisible stuff holding galaxies in place across the cosmos, releases its first batch of results. BBC

Dark matter becomes less ‘ghostly’. Scientists have uncovered a vital new insight into the nature of dark matter. BBC

Messenger crashes into Mercury, the story from the BBC and an interactive summary of the mission from the NYTimes.


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SpaceX Dragon Roars to Orbit, Delivers Science to ISS

by Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today and AAAP

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL –  In mid-April I was an eyewitness to the blastoff of the latest SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station. With my press pass from Universe Today, I watched the launch from the roof of the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) where all the shuttles and Apollo Saturn V Moon rockets were assembled for launch. I also visited the  SpaceX rocket and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch pad hours before the launch to set up my sound activated cameras within about 200 feet of the Falcon 9 rocket.  It’s always an awesome privilege to be on the front lines of history.

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fl, April 14, 2015 on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fl, April 14, 2015 on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer

Finally after a 24-hour delay due to threatening clouds, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared spectacularly to orbit on April 14, carrying the Dragon CRS-6 cargo freighter on a science supply run to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission will help pave the way for deep space human missions to the Moon, asteroids and Mars using NASA’s new Orion capsule and SLS rocket.

SpaceX also attempted to soft land and recover the 14-story tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. It came close by landing on an ocean-going barge a few hundred miles off shore in the Atlantic Ocean, but tipped over due to excess lateral velocity after landing, and broke apart and exploded. SpaceX will try again on the next ISS mission in mid-June.

Ken Kremer and the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral prior to blastoff.   Credit: Ken Kremer/

Ken Kremer and the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral before blastoff. Credit: Ken Kremer

Overall CRS-6 was the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission and the seventh trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the station since 2012. SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Dragon was packed with more than 4,300 pounds (1915 kilograms) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts,  food, water, clothing and assorted research gear for the six person Expedition 43 and 44 crews serving aboard the ISS, including the 1-year crew with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.  It successfully rendezvoused with the Earth-orbiting outpost on April 17, three-day after launch.

For complete details check out my articles and photos at Universe Today.

Astronomy Outreach by Dr. Ken Kremer

SpaceX Launches: Jun 17-20, NASA Kennedy Space Center, FL. Evening outreach at Quality Inn, Titusville, FL

Please contact Ken for more info, science outreach presentations and his space photos. Email:   website:

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